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What it’s like to be a compulsive traveller with crippling anxiety

by User Stories

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I am a chronic worrier. The first sentence I spoke probably began with “What if…” followed by a worst-case scenario disaster. I’m also a perfectionist. This combination of personality traits has been a recipe for general unease and irksome stomach issues my entire life.

Since uncertain situations can send me into a tailspin of overwhelming, anxious thoughts, one would assume I’m not the type of person who has the tolerance to endure the unpredictability of travel, but surprisingly, I am. I discovered on my first backpacking trip that the euphoria and adrenaline I feel while traveling is so potent that it outshines any anxiousness that may bubble up. Travel is responsible for so many positive things in my life, including the discovery of Headspace, which I found while reading an article in The New York Times Travel Section . I downloaded the free app and began using it to help ease my anxiety in everyday life. It kickstarted a daily mindfulness routine to detach from an inner dialogue rife with self-criticism, fear of making mistakes and obsessing about the past and future.

Two years ago, I decided to leave my stable and lovely 9-to-5 job in New York City and move to my husband’s hometown in Argentina to pursue my long-held dreams of living abroad and freelancing full-time. I was literally following my heart, but the uncertainty of knowing if I would line up enough freelance work to cover my monthly expenses left me repeatedly distressed despite all evidence to the contrary.

My writing career was flourishing, but at times, I was swallowed whole by self-doubt and fear of failure. Most people didn’t (and don’t) see this because I have an upbeat personality and I love to laugh; but underneath, I felt like a tightly-wound ball of tension struggling to adapt to a new career, life in a new country, new food, new friends and a new dynamic in my marriage, all at the same time. I was exhausted, vulnerable and raw. My stomach condition, which had been under control, flared up again. On top of it all, I judged myself harshly for allowing my unfounded fears to get the better of me.

I was literally following my heart, but the uncertainty of knowing if I would line up enough freelance work to cover my monthly expenses left me repeatedly distressed despite all evidence to the contrary.

That’s when I knew I needed to get more Headspace. I signed up for a year so I could access the customized meditation packs, specifically for anxiety, stress and sleep. I created a meditation area in my living room where I could feel the sun warm my body every morning. Without expectation, I dedicated 20-minutes each day to Andy’s guided meditations. Over time, I have slowly been able to strengthen my body’s relaxation response by staying connected to my breath and practicing noting and visualization techniques. I’m learning to accept anxiety without judgment and create space for it to come and go without resistance. I understand that I will never be free of anxious thoughts, but Andy’s daily guidance helps me respond to them in a much more productive and healthy way.

Meditation also helps me curtail stress by accepting what is in the present moment; rather than focusing on how I wish things were. I’m able to untangle myself more swiftly from old negative thought patterns before they drag me down the rabbit hole. Or, if I do fall into a painful hailstorm of anxious thoughts, I’m able to draw from the peace cultivated in my daily meditation practice to gently guide myself back to homeostasis.

I am not looking to meditation as a cure-all or quick fix, but rather a fundamental lifelong ingredient to help me stay present and enjoy the journey as I keep choosing the path of my dreams, question marks and all.

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was not paid for their writing.

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